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Online and Blended Classes Trigger Debate

Currently, thirty blended classes are being offered at Rollins, and this number is expected to grow. Although President Duncan advocates this new method, others are skeptical.  

President Duncan recently stated in an interview, “Any professor that can be replaced by a computer should be.”

Rollins has recently begun transitioning some of its traditionally classroom-based classes to online or blended formats. This is mostly happening in the Holt and Crummer schools, but it may soon be a reality for the day students.

This semester, thirty blended learning classes are being offered in the Holt school and they hope to double that number by next semester. Blended learning classes usually involve shortened classroom times and more online or independent study portions to supplement what would usually be used as lecture time. Ideally, the time spent in class will then be spent in discussions or other thought-provoking activities.

President Duncan said, “I think online learning is complex. I am a strong supporter of using technology and online learning to complement the classroom experience, and in some cases to supplement it.” He continued the idea that lecturing in classes should take place online. Class time should be preserved for meaningful discussion between students and the professors or other activities. These types of educational discussions would be very difficult for a computer to replace.

Daniel Udell ’15, who dropped out of a blended learning class due to his frustration with the online aspect, said, “I understand the merits of online portions of class, but for it to replace an otherwise ideal system that we’re intentionally paying for, it isn’t worth my, or anyone else’s, time.” Udell’s professor seemed to implement class time for lectures, which is not the goal of blended learning.

Obviously, a problem arises if students feel they are not receiving the same level of education in these new blended classes. But after reviewing results from a study on students participating in last semester’s blended learning classes, Dean David Richard of the Hamilton Holt School pointed out, “Students generally reported feeling a stronger level of engagement with the course than in a traditional face-to-face format and that course performance expectations were higher.”

However, the students did often feel more of a disconnect between themselves and their classmates and their professors, probably from the reduced class time. According to this study, 79.4% of the students who participated in blended learning classes said they would take another blended class.

Overall, the GPA of students participating in blended courses was about the same as students in traditional courses. In the survey, students participating in the blended learning classes often considered that the expectations were higher than traditional learning.

How much the blended learning program grows in both the Holt and day programs is largely dependent upon the faculty. It is up to each individual faculty member to decide if they want to go through the certification process to be able to teach blended learning classes. Though many teachers are deciding to become certified, some are choosing to stay with more traditional classroom learning.

Speaking about the blended learning faculty, Dean Richard pointed out, “We also saw some courses in which the instructor received extremely high ratings in the blended format, higher than what we saw for professors teaching in a traditional format.” In a world that is becoming increasingly dependent on online classes, these blended learning opportunities might be successful in the day program.

However, some might not think that they will learn as much—or get their money’s worth—in such an environment. Yet, research done so far shows that participants in blended learning courses are enjoying both the classes and the flexibility. Besides their own study, Rollins has done research on the new blended learning programs and is not taking this decision lightly. Most of the data seems to point to blended classes being positive for students.

President Duncan says new research shows that, “If you want real learning to occur, the lecture format is horrible. Socratic dialogue is good. But Socratic dialogue actually is not the best. The most efficient way of causing synapses to bud, grow, and connect is actually role playing. It’s video games, or actually experiential kinds of learning… actually engaging yourself in an activity, besides just talking about it.”

For some classes, online classes would make sense, but for other classes like writing or communication classes, it might not necessarily translate so well. Some classes are just more suited to being in a classroom, especially if they are already activity or discussion based. It is also difficult, if not impossible, for a computer to replace many types of in-class discussion and learning. This is why blended learning, and not totally online classes, are currently prevalent at Rollins.

Dean Richard admitted, “For most students, it appears to be a perfectly satisfactory or even excellent solution. Other students will probably want to stick with a more traditional course.”

One Comment

  1. Amanda Welch Amanda Welch

    I strongly believe that in order for the College to continue to thrive in an environment where online learning is so prevalent, it is absolutely IMPERATIVE for Rollins to make more classes available in an online or blended format. A blended or online format not only lends itself to a better learning environment, but it also provides students with flexibility in conducting coursework. With a seemingly endless selection of course delivery modalities available in the marketplace today, isn’t it best to provide students with a high calibre program with a reputation for excellence in the modality they actually WANT or NEED? If Rollins faculty are unable to adapt, I fear they may get left in the dust as other top tier universities adopt online and blended learning formats. (Prime examples of prestigious universities who have adopted such formats: Harvard, Princeton, and Berkeley.)

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